The Vine and YouTube videos are piling up on James Harden’s defense -- or lack thereof.
It seems the Houston Rockets guard doesn’t care and told the Houston Chronicle as much following Tuesday’s practice at Philadelphia.
There are videos circulating on the internet about how bad a defender Harden is. Numbers and actions on the floor support it.
Rockets GM Daryl Morey seemed to take a shot at Harden's critics after ESPN tweeted a stat of Harden compiling his fourth 40-point, 10-assist game on Sunday night, an 18-point comeback win over Toronto.
dont mess w/narrative, your focus should be on 1 possession in gm, not Harden 40/5/14 &1 of only 7 wins @TOR this yr https://t.co/cfypizmfbG
— Daryl Morey (@dmorey) March 7, 2016
Of course, one possession doesn’t make an entire game. But if you look at the entire season for Harden, his defense has been well below league average.
In 63 total games, Harden has a defensive rating over 100 in 50 of the games he’s participated in and a rating of at least 120 in nine games. Last season, a year when his defense was improved, Harden had 53 games with a defensive rating of 100 and just seven games over 120. Harden played in 81 games.
On the season, Harden’s defensive rating of 108 is the highest since the 2010-11 season.
If you compare Harden to his peers at his position, the numbers pan out. In Defensive Real/Plus Minus, Harden ranks 55th out of 95 shooting guards with a minus-1.01 rating. Harden, incidentally is No. 1 in Player Efficiency Rating among shooting guards at 25.54.
Chicago Bulls guard Jimmy Butler is behind Harden in PER at 21.69, with a defensive RPM of 0.79.
Toronto’s DeMar DeRozan, a man who Harden said he’s known since he was a little kid, is third in PER at 21.57. His defensive RPM is minus-2.40, 84th among shooting guards.
The six- and seven-second clips of Harden’s struggles on defense aren't really fair to him. If you watch the entire game, Harden struggles to defend athletic guards and does better on switches when he has an opponent in the post.
Harden is good up close on defenders because he can be physical. He gets caught away from his man while trying to help out in the paint too much because the thinking is: if he gets a steal the Rockets are off to the races.
The amount of energy Harden exerts on offense also can be attributed to his issues on defense.
Harden’s offensive game is physical, predicated on him driving to the basket, drawing contact and scoring with his left hand. Harden has terrific handle -- yet he's no Kyrie Irving -- which gives him opportunities to create separation from his defender. Harden is also such a good passer that the Rockets' coaches don’t mind him dominating the ball; he’s had 12 games with double-digit assists this season.
The minutes he’s compiling will catch up to him at some point. He’s played a NBA-high 2,381 minutes this season, just 600 minutes fewer than the 2,981 he compiled over 81 games last season. Interim coach J.B. Bickerstaff needs Harden on the floor given the fragile playoff state of the Rockets, because he’s overwhelmingly their best offensive option.
With that, the Rockets understand defensive effort is going to be poor some nights, though they’re not excusing it. But the heavy minutes and offensive load are pushing Harden to maximize everything for a playoff push.
During the playoffs last season, the workload had visibly taken its toll on Harden, most notably in Houston's loss to Golden State in the Western Conference Finals.
Houston needs Harden, bad defense and all, if they’re going to reach the postseason.
The team has no choice.